Monday, June 1, 2009

wonder what the sex is like in interracial relationships

"Hey, listen, did you ever do it with a nigger wench?"
"What was it like?"
"Like nurse shark."

--Ernest Hemingway,
To Have and Have Not *

I was reading a post at Racialicious today by Wendi Muse about interracial relationships, and it reminded me of a common white question that I've heard several times -- "What's the sex like?"

Wendi Muse's post is an insightful argument against double standards that get applied to such relationships. For one thing, those in interracial relationships get asked a lot of questions that those in intraracial relationships don't, even though the answers to those about the latter could be revealing.

At one point, Muse writes,

When the presence of an interracial relationship is noted, its very existence at times solicits a barrage of questions in the minds of onlookers, one firing after the other. The questions range from the simple, “how did they meet?” to the complex, “do they really love each other or are they just together because they wish to rebel against social norms?” to the intrusive, “how is the sex?” Some of these questions are customary when considering any relationship, yet with interracial relationships, there seems to be an exceptional increase in curiosity, one that certainly rivals that of monoracial pairings.

I agree, except that I think the curiosity about interracial relationships far exceeds that about monoracial pairings, especially about what the sex is like. This curiosity no doubt comes from both sides of any white/non-white relationship, but I suspect it usually has particular qualities or features when it comes from a white questioner. And again, I think "what the sex is like," or supposedly like, is often an especially intense curiosity.

I remember, for instance, sitting in a bar a few years ago with two white male friends, Craig and Jack.

Craig had just returned from working with the Peace Corps in . . . I was about to write "Africa," but in light of yesterday's post, I'm going to resist that lazy American tendency, and work my brain a few seconds longer to come up with the specific country. . . okay, I remember. He'd been working in Benin.

I asked Craig if he'd made any friends there, and he said that he had, both local people and other Peace Corps workers.

"Did you find a girlfriend?" I said, knowing that he was, like the other two of us, heterosexual.

"Uh, sort of," Craig answered. "But it didn't last."

"Was she African?" I said.

"Yes, she was."

I honestly can't remember if I wondered about what the sex was like, but I probably did. I probably wondered if he'd found it any different from sex with American white women.

I do remember what Jack said: "So, what was the sex like?"

Craig literally blushed. Then he looked into his beer mug and said, "Well. I don't really want to talk about that."

"Oh come on!" Jack exploded (I almost wrote "ejaculated"). "I mean, was there anything like, different about sex with her?"

Craig just looked away, and then he moved on to other stories about his two-year absence.

I think this American-white-guy curiosity about sex with non-white bodies is common, and I suspect it's a result of something that we learn as children. We learn not only that non-white people are supposedly different from us in fundamental ways, but also that they're more "bodily" than us. That they live in their bodies differently from how we do, and in many cases, somehow more than we do.

We're curious about sex, like all children, but our curiosity about sex and other, darker people is often somehow different.

Do you remember this one?

When I was a kid, I heard something bizarre from other boys about "Chinese" women. Maybe it came up when I was in the backyard with my best friend Brian, literally trying to "dig a hole all the way to China," as my father said we could do, if we just dug for long enough.

I was only six or seven at the time. At some point I was playing outside with Brian, and he said to me, "Do you know what's special about Chinese woman?"

I didn't want to admit that I didn't know, but since I was curious, I did.

"It's their vaginas," Brian said. "They have sideways vaginas."

I knew what a vagina was, but I'd never heard that before. But then I heard it several times afterward, enough that for awhile, I actually believed it. I never did figure out, though, how that made Chinese women special.

I think this white male curiosity about supposed, fundamental differences in non-white sexuality is common. If it is, then where does it come from?

It seems to me that a quick look at the history of race in America provides some explanation. We often like to say that the past is dead and gone, but I don't think it is.

Last week, we lost a great American activist and historian, Ronald Takaki. He's been widely praised as a pioneer of multiculturalism, but his writings have also taught me a lot about white Americans. In regards to sex and the body, for instance, Takaki explains in an early book, Iron Cages: Race and Culture in 19th-Century America, that a combination of religious, economic, and cultural influences encouraged white American citizens (which especially meant white men) to think of an individual's body as something in need of control. In need of self-control.

To summarize (and oversimplify) Takaki's analysis of white American male conceptions of bodies, he basically explains that the new, self-consciously "American" citizen felt a need to restrain his body, and to emphasize instead his controlling, rational, and intellectual capacities. White women were conceived of as more bodily -- and as desirable in large part because of that supposed bodiliness -- and less rational and "of the head" (and thus less capable of producing any indepth thought worth hearing about, which was basically why they were considered incapable of the full responsibilities of citizenship, including voting).

In their civic-minded zeal to harness productive energy in various sorts of metaphorical "iron cages," white men also applied the same overemphasis on the body to non-white people, both male and female. Because "Indians," for instance, supposedly failed to properly harness or "cage" their bodies, white Americans considered them lascivious, and un-industrious. Because they supposedly did not restrain their baser instincts and channel their energy into such productive labors as proper land cultivation, and because so many refused to convert to the regulating, disciplining strictures of Christianity, well then, taking their land seemed more than justified -- it seemed like the white man's duty.

According to Takaki (and to subsequent scholars), similar concepts, which constituted white projections of both fears and desires about the body, were also imposed on imported black slaves, and then later, on Mexicans and imported laborers from China.

Remnants of this general white conception, of proper white constraint and "excessive" darker bodiliness, pop up all over more recent American life and culture -- from the 1950s Beatnik fondness for black jazz and Jack Kerouac's romantic fondness for laboring Mexican "fellahin," to today's "wiggers" and "rice kings" and "rice queens" (and there's probably a word now for white people who are sexually obsessed with Native Americans -- does anyone here know of such a term?).

So I think the common white curiosity about sex with someone from another race is more than just mere curiosity about sex with someone who's supposedly different (and I don't mean here that I'm arguing with Wendi Muse's post, which you really should read). The imagined differences of non-white ways of being in the body are often more specific; and yet at the same time, they're more general too, in that they're usually about the more bodily, sexual "nature" of many types of most non-white people in general.

Exceptions do of course exist, such as the de-sexualization in the white imagination of Asian men. In many other cases, though, I think the common white curiosity about interracial sex is fueled by a collective, stereotypical, historically built fantasy about people who supposedly live in their bodies "more" than white people do. And if that's still with us, then it can make us overly curious, and even strangely excited, about what really amounts to our own, dehumanizing fantasies about interracial sex.


  1. Sideways vaginas? What the hell is that even supposed to mean?

    Goodness. I'm white-ish and dating an Asian-American guy and I've never ever had to field anything like this. I doubt he has either. Good thing too, I would rip the questioner a new one. What the hell!

  2. This is going to sound kind of odd, but I think that porn has helped "de-mystify" interracial sex in a way, and people are less curious because if they want to know what a non-white woman (or an old woman, or a disabled woman, or an obese woman or a pre-op transsexual woman) is like during sex, they can simply Google it. The only thing that doesn't seem to be "debunked" is the "Asian men have small penises" trope -- which is odd to me personally because I've only seen "normal" sized Asian penises, and my friends who are married to or going out with Asian men have noted that they didn't notice anything different about their sizes. Yet, non-Asian people like to bring that up often (as well as the 'black men are well hung' thing) as being truth based on some sketchy studies that were conducted.

  3. I'm sorry to be a party pooper... but sex is the same (not that it's a bad thing) regardless of skin colour.

  4. I agree with you, Takeout Wench. However, as well as the Asian man non-debunked theory, the black man theory isn't debunked. Trust me, it's a myth, lol. But, porn has also kept it unnecessarily going. So, it has helped and hurt in some ways.

    I can honestly say that no one group has a lock on the big penis theory. As a black woman, I sit back and laugh at the absurdity of it all. Yet, I have had some past lovers who felt the need to experiment with me simply because of my race.

  5. I agree, octopod; in retrospect, that was a really bizarre and dehumanizing thing to say. But then, maybe not surprising, given that I also lived in a place where I often overheard adults saying, "Why thanks, that's mighty white of you!"

    Takeout Wench, that makes sense to me, although watching the trumped-up fantasies of porn for evidence of much of anything real seems at best ironic.

    gooblyglob, I don't know what party you feel your pooping, or pooping on, but thanks for the input.

    honeybrown1976, thank you for the additional penile info. But, I hope this thread gets back on topic, that being the ways of white folks and what I see as their often peculiar curiosities about interracial relationships.

  6. hi macon,
    author here. first i want to say thanks for linking my article! secondly, i will tryto put things (a little) back on topic. while i recognize that this site is about the white perspective about what white people do, it's important to remember that interracial relationships include relationships between two people of color as well, and do not always involve whites. i know you didn't say that, but i am reminding your readers to consider that. the stereotypes, fascination, and curiosity regarding interracial sex (and, in the extended remix, relationships) is not exclusive to whites. people across various racial categorizations hold on to racist stereotypes and characterization of other poc groups as well, and being poc doesn't excuse them from that behavior or make whites' behavior on this subject any more peculiar.
    last thing, re :porn...i agree with you, macon. as porn relies heavily on stereotypes for the sake of marketing and increasing the fantasy appeal, it's the LAST place i would refer one to see interracial sex. last time i checked, i don't spend my sexual experiences commenting on how beautiful my partner's white skin is in contrast to mine or the size of her butt, his penis, etc. if you want to know about interracial sex, please avoid porn like the plague :)

  7. Thank you for stopping by Wendi, and I appreciate that additional point. It's a given to me that a lot of the stuff I say white people often do isn't stuff that only white people do (though I do think that in the case of most or all of the "stuff" that I point out in my posts, when whites do it, it's different). I should acknowledge that more often, and should have done so in this post as well.

  8. macon d said...

    "gooblyglob, I don't know what party you feel your pooping, or pooping on, but thanks for the input."

    oh dear... that sounds sooo bad... I'm totally NOT into *that*

    I just meant that this curiousity is strange, it's like wondering how people of a different colour digest food, the same as *most* other people.

  9. I agree, octopod; in retrospect, that was a really bizarre and dehumanizing thing to say. But then, maybe not surprising, given that I also lived in a place where I often overheard adults saying, "Why thanks, that's mighty white of you!"Yeahhh... I've never heard the "sideways vagina" thing, but I've read about it on the Internet as "slanted vagina" via Carmen van Kerckhove snark only a year or two ago. I sort of didn't believe that some white people actually thought this, until I read this post.

    One time I asked if you used to be a conservative. What I was detecting was probably not conservatism, but a small-(white-)town cultural background.

    May I ask what time period you grew up in? Your childhood experiences are completely alien (and mystical) to me, and I desire to know more about the context.

  10. Hello Restructure! I've leaned to the left ever since I understood the general beliefs and principles that make up "Right" and "Left." I didn't grow up in a small town. I lived in a racially mixed area of a medium sized, midwestern American city (I'd rather not say when) until I was ten, when my parents moved us out to a very white suburb. I don't think what I heard growing up was all that uncommon, and I have some hope that it's less common now. What angers and frustrates me is how I and other white people are raised in ways that encourage us to accept such dehumanizing and truly denigrating conceptions of others (and ultimately of ourselves). And then to top it off, having desire thrown into the mix! Lillian Smith and Thandeka are both so right about the pathologies of supposedly healthy white childrearing practices. I hope more writers and scholars (and filmmakers) dig into all this and expose its musty rot to sunshine.

  11. I went to a car dealer many years ago and looked at a Japanese car. It had some Japanese writing on the motor. The dealer looked at me and my mom and said "You know why you can't read that writing?" "cause you eyes aren't slanted". I'm sure he saved the "nigger" jokes for his other customers.

    No one really believes that thing about the slanted vaginas any more than what they used to say about black folk having tails (not in the 20th century anyhow). It's a lame joke that only confuses children.

    You can't deny that black women, in general, have bigger, rounder behinds than white or asian women. It's painfully obvious. Is it so impossible that black men may have larger penises? Wouldn't there be a natural adaptation considering all the booty we have to contend with? I'm just sayin.

    "Minorities" aren't as curious about white sexuality cause we're surrounded by it. On TV, billboards, movies, etc. As well as being surrounded by potential white sexual partners (that's part of being in the minority). Many white folks can go for years without any meaningful contact with a "minority". Even what they see in the media is filtered through a white lens. The curiosity isn't that strange considering.

  12. What does butt size have to do with penis and vagina size?

    big booty= big penis?

    I don't understand the comparison.

  13. The thing that bothers me the most it the fact that, by talking about how "well endowed" black men are or about how wild black women are in bed, we reinforce the common theme of black people being animalistic. The same goes with saying that we're good dancers or good at sports. Macon D, that's why I like that you referenced specifically the body. It's like "You people are so more bodily than us, that's why you're so good in bed and at sports and AT PICKING OUR COTTON!"

    It's the idea that the races are biologically different, and that, therefore, different races are better equipped for different tasks. Usually, those tasks lead to white people getting money and power.

  14. I'd first read of the sideways vagina in a memoir written by a Jewish boy who'd survived the Nazi occupation of Poland.

  15. Strangely, I've found that many black men believe white women are more "in tune" with their bodies and comfortable with their sexuality. When I was growing up, the stereotype was that white girls were easy and would do anything. It's interesting to hear that white folks believed that opposite, although not completely surprising when I think about it.

  16. As a white American woman married to a black Chadian man, I have to say that I have never been asked that. Although I am not saying that what you are writing is wrong. It might be because we live in a very urban area were probably 75% of our friends are in some sort of interracial relationship (black/white, brazilian/white, asian/centeral american, etc.)

  17. @ Fro,
    Two parts to my answer:

    Kevin Locket said It's the idea that the races are biologically different, and that, therefore, different races are better equipped for different tasks.

    In America differences are seen as ways of judging someone good or bad. Black folk are more afraid of the idea of a large black penis than whites are. And rightfully so as it has been used as a excuse for racism. My first point is that there are biological differences amongst races that sometimes revolve around sexual organs. The behind may not be scientifically defined as "a sexual organ" but it is in the vernacular.

    Second, The original way of human reproduction is doggy style, as is seen in damn near every mammal on the planet. I'm suggesting that a certain length may be necessary to complete the mission (google the Hottentot Venus). Adaptation suggests that those lacking the equipment will see there gene pool diminish.

    My overlong answer to my tongue in cheek comment.

  18. I also, as a black woman, laugh at the whole "black men are hung and asians are small" bullshit. I know quite a few Asian men who are hung like horses, and more than a few black men who are NOT. And sex is sex, regardless of skin color.

  19. false1, I can see the logic in your argument, but the problem is that, genetically speaking, races don't exist. There is no genetic connection between skin color and things like genital size or natural speed or intellect. None of those genetic factors are interrelated.

    Recent genetic research has shown that there is more genetic diversity within one "race" than there is from race to race. This is because race is simply a categorizing system that people made up a few thousand years ago. It has no basis in anything scientific or otherwise logical.

    Not to go all "teacher" and stuff...

  20. I can speak on this one with some authority: I'm white and didn't sleep with a white girl till college. And I got laid a lot in high school.

    All the girls I was with in HS were either black or hispanic.

    And yes, I've been asked the, "what's it like" question A LOT. And yes, mostly from white guys - although many of my black male friends have been curious about the Puerto Rican girls.

    Ohh, to be young and single again. ;-)

    In the end, it all comes down to the two going at it.

  21. What a juicy subject. I like when we "get real" in here. I will share my little observations. There is a lot of anger from all sides, but the anger is for different reasons. Those reasons are what is most important in examining racism.

    Like I said, these are just my thoughts based on my observations and I'm only going to discuss white and non-white only, as those have been the ones I have personally heard some strong opinions about. Also, I'm only going to discuss heterosexual relationships as that's what I'm most familiar with seeing. I want to emphasize that what I'm about to say refers to the "some" that get angry and not "all".

    Women of color: Express in an angry way what mostly seems like extreme frustration. They seem very frustrated with the fact that society identifies white women as the standard of beauty, gives white women a multitude of advantages, and still white women aren't happy with that and even want their men. Seem pissed at the men for "selling out".

    Men of color: Express feelings of betrayal by the woman from their own group. Like she's selling out the team to try to "move up" through association with the dominate group. Resent the white man for having the advantages he has in this society generally.

    White women: Assume the white man is a traitor or that something is wrong with him since he is with "her". View the woman of color as a slutty harpy who cares nothing of love but is just trying to get resources and enter a world she "doesn't belong".

    White men: Extreme disgust with the white woman and anger at the man of color. See white woman as most certainly a race traitor who is "brainwashed" or "mentally ill". Sees the white woman as permanently "damaged goods". Sees the man of color as "sneaky" or "dangerous", trying to use the white woman to move up where he "don't belong".

    Now, back to the "different reasons" and why it is important. In short, in my opinion, when white people gets angry it's the "what are you doing with that subspecies" type of anger; when people of color get angry it tends to be the "why are you turning your back on me" or "don't you have enough already" kind of anger. Therefore, I believe that the way white people get angry is far less justified and much more deplorable.

    So, any comments?

  22. . . . I was about to write "Africa," but in light of yesterday's post, I'm going to resist that lazy American tendency, and work my brain a few seconds longer to come up with the specific country. . .

    A lazy american tendency. Like, American, as in the continent.. And Africa, as in the continent? Maybe this tendency is down to referring to your own country by it's continent name, then spread, as opposed to any kind of racism?

  23. A lazy american tendency. Like, American, as in the continent.. And Africa, as in the continent? Maybe this tendency is down to referring to your own country by it's continent name, then spread, as opposed to any kind of racism?

    What da hell are you talking bout? Out of everything he wrote up there, that's the one thing you thought to nit pick at?

  24. WOW. I am utterly shocked and wide-eyed at the responses to this topic. Man, this really went right over people's heads. Only two people had anything intelligent and insightful to add to this discussion. WOW.

  25. I agree with Kevin Lockett. The animalistic view white people have of non-white people extends to beliefs that they are wild in bed (it's formally called exoticism). In college I took electives in Chinese, Middle Eastern, and African literature, and exoticism was a theme that ran through many of the texts.

    A short story that stood out to me involved a Middle Eastern man (sorry, my rusty brain can't recall his exact background) studying in Europe (England?) and using exoticism to his advantage, seducing scores of curious white women until he marries one, and then murders her.

    It was a harrowing story, and this post reminded me of it because I kept thinking that perhaps only white men had this particular curiousity? My boyfriend is Argentine, and in three years I've never been asked about our sex life in terms of us being an interracial couple. Macon, it seemed to me that you were implying that this curiousity is indeed mostly the domain of white males?

    My own experiences incline me to agree that white curiosity about interracial sex is actually men's curiousity, but the story I referenced earlier makes me second-guess that belief.

  26. I didn't mean to imply that it's more of a white guy than white gal thing, Chelsea. I don't know if it is or not, since I don't haven't encountered much white-women curiosity about it (except in movies, and fiction, like Sherman Alexie's novel Indian Killer, which refers to white women who are curious about sex with "Indian" men).

    By the way, do you remember if that story was written by a white author, or one of Middle Eastern descent?

  27. I'm a black American women married to a European. I live in Scandinavia, and I have to say that exoticism is very big here. Both white men and women are very curious (dare I say obsessed) with sex with brown people. There have even been articles published about white women going to Africa just to pay black men for sex. Blacks and Latins are thought of as more "hot", affectionate, better bodies, more physically attractive. People are very open about it here.

  28. Just found this blog today and will start here (a year after the post) to say it's damned incredible, intelligent, insightful. Thank you to the author and to all involved in commenting.


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